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chapter one: The Purpose of This Work - Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 
Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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The Purpose of This Work
Research relating to the constitutional organization of government having been, since The Social Contract and The Spirit of the Laws, the favorite speculative focus of the most enlightened of our writers in France, is now very decidedly out of favor today. I am not examining here at all whether this disfavor is justified; but it is certainly quite understandable.1 In a few years we have tried some five or six constitutions2 and found ourselves the worse for it. No argument can prevail against such an experience.
Moreover, if despite the universal distaste today for all discussions of this type, one wished to give oneself over to reflecting on the nature of governments, and their forms, limits, and prerogatives, one would probably make the opposite mistake to the  current one, but one no less gross and deadly. When certain ideas are associated with certain words, one may repeatedly seek in vain to show that the association is false. The reproduction of the words will for ages summon up these same ideas.3 It was in the name of freedom that we got prisons, scaffolds, and endless multiplied persecution. Quite understandably, this name, which signals a thousand odious and tyrannical measures, can be pronounced today only in a mood of distrust or malevolence.
Extremes do not only touch but also follow each other. One exaggeration always produces a contrary one. This applies especially to a nation in which everyone’s aim is to show off, and as Voltaire said, everyone is more concerned to hit hard than accurately.4 The ambition of the writers of the day is at all times to seem more convinced than anyone else of the reigning opinion. They watch which way the crowd is rushing. Then they dash as fast as they can to overtake it. They think thereby to acquire glory for providing an inspiration they actually got from others. They hope we will take them for the inventors of what they imitate and that because they run panting in front of the crowd they have just overtaken, they will seem like the leaders of the band, though the latter do not even suspect they exist.5
 A man of horrible memory, whose name should not soil any writing, since death has justly settled his personal account, said, on examining the English constitution: “I see a king there, and recoil in horror. Royalty is against nature.”6 Some anonymous writer, in a recently published essay, likewise declares all republican government unnatural.7 It really is true that in certain eras you have to go round the whole circle of follies before coming back to reason.
Yet if it is proven that all research on constitutions, properly so called, must, after the upheavals we have suffered, necessarily be for some people a subject to go mad about, while for everyone else it is a matter of indifference, there are nevertheless principles of politics independent of all constitutions, and these seem to me still worth developing. Applicable under all forms of government, no threat to the basis of any social order, compatible with monarchy and republicanism alike, whatever versions either may take, these principles can be discussed frankly and freely. They are especially open to discussion in an Empire whose leader has just proclaimed, in the most unforgettable way, the freedom of the press, and declared independence of thought the first conquest of our century.
Among these principles one seems to me of the greatest importance. It has been overlooked by writers of all parties. Montesquieu was not concerned with it. Rousseau in his The Social Contract based his eloquent and absurd theory on subverting it. All the ills of the French Revolution come from this subversion. All the crimes with which our demagogues have appalled the world have been sanctioned by it. This book is about the reestablishment of this principle, and its developments and consequences, as well as  its application to all forms of government, whether monarchical or republican.
[1. ]The bibliographical researches of André Monglond, La France révolutionnaire et impériale. Annales de bibliographies méthodiques et descriptions des livres illustrés, Grenoble, B. Arthaud; Paris, Impr. nat., 1930 (1789)–1963 (1812), 9 vol., let us confirm Constant’s claim. From the time of the Consulate and above all the Empire, constitutional writings do indeed become rarer. The disfavor indicated, however, is much more a question of censorship than of any natural cause. See Henri Welschinger, La censure sous le Premier Empire, Paris, Perrin, 1887. We find in the work of Sismondi, Recherches sur les constitutions des peuples libres, edited and with an introduction by Marco Minerbi, Geneva, Droz, 1965, p. 82, a similar reflection to Constant’s but much earlier. “The French, surrounded with revolutions which have taught them all too well to mistrust political theories, have grown weary with an important branch of inquiry to which their new duties really summon them. Maybe I will strive in vain to persuade them that the subject has not been exhausted by all the writings which have so wearied them, that we have made scarcely any advance on the maîtres who wrote before the Revolution, and that lots of important questions still demand debate, lots of findings need verification, and lots of new ideas need an airing. They will find a great number of these new ideas in the book with which I am presenting them, and if they do not accept them, at least they will find rejecting them stimulating. Perhaps, they might even during the course of their criticism, encounter the lessons they do not want to take from me.”
[2. ]Since this text dates from 1806, we are citing in effect the constitutions of 1791, 1793, an III, an VIII, an X, and an XII.
[3. ]Constant had already enunciated his conception of the power of words on men and ideas in De la force du gouvernement, pp. 84–85. See Etienne Hofmann, Les “Principes de politique” de Benjamin Constant, Droz, 1980, Tome I, Première Partie, Ch. 2, pp. 119–120. (Hereafter this work is referred to as Hofmann’s thesis.)
[4. ]Hofmann failed to track down this quotation from Voltaire. Neither the analytic tables of the subject matter which accompany the Oeuvres complètes (the one by Chantreau, Paris, 1801, and the one by Miger, Paris, 1840), though detailed, nor the compilation by Adrien Lefort and Paul Buquet, Les mots de Voltaire, Paris, Librairie illustrée (1887), includes it. Hofmann says this witticism may have been handed down only by oral tradition. The saying turns up again in Constant’s De la religion considérée dans sa source, ses formes et ses développements, Paris, Bossange, 1824, I, 6, p. 112.
[5. ]Alfred de Musset was to say in 1832 in his dedication to A. Tattet of La coupe et les lèvres (the cup and the lips):
Alfred de Musset, Poésies complètes. Text edited and annotated by Maurice Allem, Paris, Gallimard, 1957, p. 135 (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade).
[6. ]This “man of horrible memory” is Georges Couthon, who, in his Discours prononcé à la séance des Jacobins du Ier pluviôse an II de la République (speech delivered at the session of the Jacobins on 20 January 1794) Paris, Impr. des 86 départements, s.d., declares in fact: “I see in this constitution a king. A king! I recoil in horror. A king! It is a monster which nature disclaims, a master she does not recognise, a tyrant she detests” (pp. 3–4; BN, Lb40 777).
[7. ][Louis-Matthieu Molé], Essais de morale et de politique, Paris, H. Nicolle, 1806, VIII-254 p. This work had already appeared in December 1805; Constant speaks about it twice in his correspondence with Hochet. See Hofmann’s thesis, Première Partie, Ch. 3, p. 233 and n. 145. The whole second part of Molé’s collection of essays seeks to show that monarchical government is natural.